Australia: Whale lifts, tosses boat

6th Nov 2002 Story: news.com.au

Five Tasmanians survived a terrifying encounter with a large whale, which lifted their boat out of the water and tossed it around.

The close encounter came about 8.30am on Saturday at Waterfall Bay, south of Eaglehawk Neck on the Tasman Peninsula.

The whale, believed to be a mother protecting a calf, rose up under the boat, lifting it more than 1m out of the water before turning it 180 degrees and tossing it around.

The ordeal ended when the whale sank back into the water and disappeared.

Boat skipper and charter operator Stuart Nichols said he had motored away from the Eaglehawk Neck jetty with four passengers on board.

The two men and two women were taking part in an Adult Education course and had booked the trip for a day of seal-watching at Hippolite Rock, south of Eaglehawk Neck.

The marketing material for the course encouraged participants to get "up close and personal" with seals _ but they never expected to get so close and personal with a whale.

Mr Nichols, 36, said the group had seen the whale break the water in the distance and stopped to watch it.

"The whale disappeared and we thought that was it, so we started moving again," Mr Nichols said.

The boat, a 7.9m inboard, was travelling about 7 knots when the whale reappeared in the most dramatic fashion.

"We just felt it, we just got lifted straight up out of the water" Mr Nichols said.

"I have seen a lot of whales and I have heard of whales brushing up against boats, but I have never heard of anything like that."

The motor stalled as the propellers dug into the whale, which Mr Nichols estimated to be more than 12m in length.

"Its head was up in front of us and its tail up behind and we were getting tossed around," Mr Nichols said.

"I kept looking at that tail and thinking: if he gives us a whack with that, we're gone."

Terrified, he and the four passengers clung to the boat as the whale turned them around 180 degrees.

"Everyone had cameras but no one took any photos because they were too busy hanging on," Mr Nichols said.

The whale, a southern right, then sank back underwater, leaving the boat and its speechless passengers upright and safe on the surface.

"It seemed to take forever but it was probably only 30 seconds or so," Mr Nichols said. "We were all shaking when it was over but we were very calm.

"The only assumption I can make is that it was a mother protecting a calf, which we couldn't see."

The collision with the whale had damaged the boat's propellers and steering mechanism, so Mr Nichols rigged a temporary steering system to get the boat back to shore.

"We all sat there in stunned silence when we got back," Mr Nichols said.

Despite the drama, the plucky group has asked him to reschedule the seal-watching trip again soon.

The Mercury